Tuesday, May 24th, 2016

Illinois Appellate Court Upholds Vehicle Impoundment Fine

Recently, an Illinois Appellate Court upheld a municipality’s administrative impoundment fee as constitutional. Specifically, the municipality charged a $500 “administrative penalty” for vehicles that were subject to impoundment under the ordinance. Ultimately, an individual challenged this ordinance, arguing that the $500 charge was an unconstitutional attempt by the municipality to raise revenue through its police powers.

In its holding, the court was ultimately tasked with deciding whether the $500 charge was a fee or a fine. If it were it a fee, the municipality’s $500 charge would have had to bear some reasonable relation to the cost of enforcement. However, a municipality has much broader authority in imposing fines, since they are intended to be punitive or to act as a deterrent. Specifically, a fine is constitutional so long as it is reasonably related to a legitimate purpose. Further, and as the court noted, “a fine that is likely to act as a deterrent is related to a legitimate purpose.”

Ultimately, the court determined that the charge was a fine because the ordinance used the word “penalty,” which normally connotes a fine. The court furthermore held that “[i]mpoundment ordinances that impose penalties of $500 or more are constitutional because they serve the legitimate purpose of deterring criminal activity.”

While this case appears to indicate that a $500 fine will pass constitutional muster, it provides little guidance for ordinances that impose administrative fees. Municipalities that charge an impoundment fee should ensure that the fee reasonably relates to the cost of enforcement.


Author: Jacob D. Caudill